After nine years of effort, a Chinese ribbon manufacturer finally can print Yao Ming on its products as a trademark using the same two Chinese characters as the retired NBA star's name.
One of China's largest producers of ribbons used for gifts and decorations, Yama Ribbon was established in 2004 in Xiamen, Fujian province. The company filed for the trademark Yao Ming with the national trademark bureau in August that year.
The company had planned to register itself as Yamei Ribbon. But after learning that the name was already used by a competitor, its CEO - who is also called Yao Ming - decided to use his own name to register the company and its Chinese trademark.
"We just applied for the Yao Ming trademark in the ribbon product category and had no intention to exploit the popularity of the sports star Yao Ming," the CEO told Fujian Daily.
The athlete Yao Ming and his legal team applied for the same trademark about two years later, he said.
But the company's trademark application was still rejected in 2007 by the bureau, which ruled that as China's most famous basketball player, Yao Ming enjoys a high reputation and his name cannot be registered as a trademark by other companies or individuals.
CEO Yao challenged the ruling and appealed to the Trademark Appeal Board under the State Administration for Industry and Commerce for a review.
This time, Yao received assistance from the government of Jimei district where the company is located.
The Jimei district government handed over a document in October 2008 to the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, saying the company has grown to an industry leader in the Chinese market and its products also enjoy a good reputation in the industry.
Two months later, the trademark received preliminary approval from the trademark appeal board and entered into the public review period.
During that time, sports star Yao and his management team filed an objection to the trademark, saying it would violate his intellectual property rights. The national trademark bureau again turned down the company's trademark application in 2011.
The CEO then asked for a second review by the appeal board, which finally ruled in the favor of the company.
Their application for the trademark is different from malicious and rushed registrations, the CEO said.
"It has a legitimate source and has already been well recognized in the industry due to years of the company's hard work," he noted.
Qiu Hui, manager of an IP agency, told West Strait Morning Post that "the company's success is largely due to its proper use of the trademark". He said the board found it does not mislead consumers or damage the reputation of basketball star Yao Ming.
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